Vertical Ray of the Sun is indeed like its namesake, akin to a shaft of the morning sun [for me anyway], delicate, fresh and inspiring.
Many such allegories can be made about the characters and feel of Tran Anh Hung’s films [Scent of a Green Papaya, Cyclo]. One tends to use these superlatives to describe all his films because it’s the strongest element in all his films and the one that leaves the deepest impression.
The lush visuals are breathtaking and time slows down when you see a Tran Anh Hung film. In Vertical Ray of the Sun, the audience steps into present day Hanoi into the lives of three sisters, Lien, Suong and Khanh. They come together on the anniversary of their mother’s death to pray, prepare the memorial dinner and catch up.
You can almost smell, feel, hear and touch every thing from their point of view. I can’t recall another director who makes you feel the films’ environment as keenly he does. It’s a refreshing change from seeing buildings, cars and explosions to the leafy and beautiful [not to mention inviting!] gardens and quaint Vietnamese homes.
The pace is laid back to the point of being meandering at times but there is enough to keep you interested. Numerous subplots abound. Each sister has her secret and they are revealed slowly over two hours. The director is adamant at teasing the audience with its playful humour and its non-conclusive ending.
Vertical Ray of the Sun is the first film of Silk Screen 2001, last year’s program being extremely successful [read: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon]. Although Vertical Ray of the Sun is about as different from CTHD as you can get, it’s a good start to the program. If you have seen Tran Anh Hung’s previous films you know what to expect, but for novices, just relax and go with the flow of the film.